Don’t listen to the cave dwellers

Peter Kageyama talks urban revitalisation.

It’s a construction site but looks like J.R.Ewing’s backyard in ‘Dallas’, TV’s saga of the amoral oil baron.

The drilling rigs dominate the skyline at the top of Devonport Road on the old Farmers site, constantly grinding away into the substrata, not for black gold but for piles, all 5000 of them, 65,000 lineal metres of piling.   

“Hey, it tells us something is going on,” says Peter Kageyama. He’s an American community and economic expert, a lover of cities. He offers fresh perspectives on how councils and citizens can better engage “and create loveable places” to live, work and play.

And he’s offering up some of those perspectives to The Weekend Sun during a casual observational wander around Tauranga’s CBD, a downtown in transformation. “There may be inconvenience with noise and trucks. But intuitively as human beings, we like activity. The psychic message, the emotional message here is something good going on, something positive.”

Good and positive is a $130 million spend on the old Farmers site - 12 storeys, 8000 square metres of retail space, 23 townhouses, 96 high-end apartments and 322 carparks sitting atop that 30,000 cubic metres of concrete currently being pumped into those 27-metre-deep piles.

“Having another few hundred people living in the CBD will fundamentally change the place” says Peter Kageyama. “Instead of just being for a few tourists, this will become someone’s backyard.”

And those people will want to do ‘good stuff’ in their backyard. “They will want local restaurants, they will want local shops and unique experiences, stuff that locals like and want.”

And he shares a secret. “Tourists like what the locals like.” If those residents in the new Farmers building go down The Strand for a barbecue, tourists will want to do it, if they are sitting on a blanket having a picnic across the road, tourists will want to do it.

And Peter Kageyama sees past the fact that Devonport Road is a desolate retail strip… ravaged by the malls and a proliferation of ‘for lease’ signs and scaffolding.

He can only see drilling rigs, concrete trucks, cranes and diggers and feel excitement. “And then in 2020 or 2021 it suddenly opens up and people will stop and say wow, that’s cool. And a year later it will feel like it’s always been there.”

And he’s effusive about Our Place – a temporary jigsaw of container space offering food, workshops, retail and entertainment. “Love it, just love these kinds of things.”

Repurposed shipping containers are the kinds of things that make downtowns vibrant according to Peter Kageyama. “This is why we come downtown. It’s not to go to the bank. I can bank anywhere, banks do nothing to create character downtown.”

He says go to the malls for the big box and national chains. “It’s nice knowing those are there. But all these individual homegrown shops are absolutely the character and local flavour of the city and the best businesses for downtown.” A place you can stop, fossick, eat, drink and reflect, a social space. “Exactly.”

And while it’s been mulled over whether a university has a place downtown, Peter Kageyama is widely enthusiastic. “The students will be great for the CBD.” Even though they don’t have discretionary dollars? “Doesn’t matter. They have a presence, they bring energy and enthusiasm.”

It is said everyone resists change except for babies with a wet nappy. “Yes, there will be people who look up Devonport Road and remember a lovely little haberdashery or something.

 “But we all have to agree change is happening in this town and some people may reflect on that and bring a lot more emotional baggage.”

He says they will be the letters-to-the-editor writers, the people who complain at council meetings, the naysayers, the cave-dwellers, citizens against everything.

“If they are the only voices your council is hearing, then of course, they're going to be hesitant because they will think they must be speaking for the rest of us. Well they’re not. They’re absolutely not.”

Peter Kageyama says it's far less likely folks are going to show up and say good job, good on you, keep it up. “It's not human nature there.”

The people resisting change around the CBD the most vehemently will be the ones who feel like they're losing something, like they’re protecting something.

“I’m not quite sure what they're protecting, perhaps a quaint notion of the good old days. Most of the probably agree the good old days really weren't necessarily that good right?”

But he’s sure the vast majority of people will wander the CBD, see all the development and think “This is cool, give me more of this, it’s great.”

Peter Kageyama will continue his CBD meander next week – the millennials, the university building, the waterfront carpark and who owns the streets. People or cars?